The Ron Paul newsletters, in the news — again!

The following appeared on Wirkman Netizen, on October 1, 2008:

I have argued that the controversial “Ron Paul” newsletters amounted to Paleolibertarianism Beta (see links below to previous posts). But it is worth remembering that when Paleolibertarianism was first trotted out in the pages of the January 1990 issue of Liberty magazine, Ron Paul was asked for a comment. And he responded:

I hestitate to comment on Rockwell’s article because I see the debate as being more divisive than productive. I prefer to use my energy attacking those who support statism, whether they do so intentionally or out of ignorance.

Having said this, I will make one comment: it’s obvious to me that the Libertarian Party would be a lot bigger than it is now if its image were perceived as more libertarian and less libertine.

That is from the March 1990 issue of Liberty, page 50, Volume 3, Number 4.

My trouble with paleolibertarianism was on the Libertine Issue, in part. I agreed with paleos that some vices regarded as “libertine” by normal folk are indeed vices. But I saw no point in belaboring the point in the paleo manner: THE PEOPLE WE DEFEND ARE SCUM AND WE KNOW IT. I usually preferrred a gentler approach. “Scum” — and the many nasty words in the old Ron Paul newsletters — just went overboard.

My favorite form of acknowledging the vice/toleration problem was to revise Voltaire’s defense of free speech to a defense of psychoactive drug use: “I may disapprove of what you take, but I’ll defend to your death your right to take it.”

That, I thought, gets the distinction made just right.

Further, I do believe that practicing the virtues generally does reward the virtuous. And vice does punish the vice-ridden. So, in a free society with individual responsibility, people who choose to smoke die younger, and at their expense; people who screw around without protection get STDs and are more apt than chaster folks to have their pudenda itch, bleed, chafe, and rot off; people who sky dive are more apt to find themselves a pancake on a rocky plain. Few people want to die young, lose their genitalia, or lose skeletal and organ integrity, so they have plenty incentive to reform — and, in a free society, no ready-at-hand excuse to blame their vices on others. So, by insisting on individual responsibility, one encourages virtue without hectoring. And accepts vice without hysteria. (Folly will always be with us.)

Paleolibertarianism always seemed like an excuse to hector. And some (not all) used it as an excuse to berate. And most of that just seemed indecent to me.

Ron Paul was right to say that the Paleo debate was divisive. The perception of libertinism? It only occasionally bothered me, in part because I grew up a Christian, and I believed that all are sinners, that all have foibles. The attack on libertinism by the paleos struck me as self-righteous garbage, just more Pharisaic posturing by conservative types, the kind of people I just could not trust, the kind of people who couldn’t see a rafter in their own eyes, but pick at the splinters in others.

The nasty element in Paleoism was especially divisive. And yet it occurred in Ron Paul’s own newsletters, under his name. That seems puzzling to me, to this day.

Hat tip to Jesse Walker for reminding me of Ron Paul’s “No Comment” comment.